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Introduction to Archival Research

An introductory overview of archival research at the Kellen Design Archives and other archives.


One good database to use for finding archival collections is WorldCat. You may already use WorldCat to locate other types of library resources. Some New School Archives collections have been cataloged and appear in WorldCat.

It is important to remember that just because you do not see what you are looking for in WorldCat does not mean it does not exist. A large number of archival collections throughout the world have no online records.

You can also try searching a database called ArchiveGrid. If you would like a personal tutorial on how to use ArchiveGrid, contact the New School Archives for an appointment.

Additionally, many states within the United States support their own databases for archives and libraries that exist within their state. If your topic is state-specific, this may be a good option for beginning your research. State and regional archives databases will often include records created by smaller archives, libraries, and museums that are unable to participate in larger efforts, like WorldCat. The New School Archives contributes records for the Empire State Archival Discovery Cooperative. Please contact us to request a tutorial.

Check those secondary sources!

Here's a tip: Look on the acknowledgements, bibliography, credits, and reference pages of books and articles you read as background on your topic. These may lead you to archival resources that aren't online. Just because someone else has already examined these materials, doesn't mean you shouldn't.

How to Find Archival Collections

Archives exist in many places. They are often part of academic institutions. The New School Archives and Special Collection is part of The New School. Other archives are units within public libraries, historical societies, museums, and government offices. Some companies have archives as well.

Even though archives are often part of library systems, you do not have to be a student at a particular university or college to use that institution's archives. The exception is business archives. Some corporations, however, do allow researchers to consult company records. It does not hurt to ask.

Here is a list prepared by New School Archives staff of archives with art and design-related holdings in New York City:

AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Archives

Columbia University, Avery Architectural and Fine Art Library

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Fashion Institute of Technology Library, Special Collections and Archives

Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography at the Cooper Union houses over 5,000 pieces of original design ephemera by such designers as Paul Rand, Lou Dorfsman, Push Pin Studios, George Lois, Alvin Lustig, Will Burtin, Lester Beall, Lou Silverstein, Bradbury Thompson, Otl Aicher, Karl Gerstner, Anthon Beeke, Tibor Kalman, Massimo Vignelli, Chip Kidd, and countless others. Each and every piece in the collection can be accessed by the public.

Interference Archive documents social movements through posters and fliers, audio-visual records, buttons and t-shirts, print publications, and a range of other formats. New School students are welcome to use the archives for research projects.

LIM College Archives

Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives documents the activities of the museum and its employees. Also maintains extensive artists' files.

Museum of Modern Art Archives documents the activities of the museum and its employees. According to the website, the archives also includes "private archives and papers of artists, galleries, dealers, art historians, critics, and others. The holdings also include an extensive Photographic Archive and interviews conducted as part of the Archives Oral History Program."

Museum of the City of New York

New York Art Resources Consortium (ARCADE) provides bibliographic access to the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives, the Frick Art Reference Library, and the Museum of Modern Art Library.

New-York Historical Society Museum & Library

New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts contains collections in a variety of formats across many centuries and geographic locations. It does not solely document New York City. A special division of the New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is one of the leading archives documenting the lives of people of African descent, including Black artists. Another special division, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center, has extensive material on theater, music, and dance.

New York School of Interior Design Archives & Special Collections

Pratt Institute Archives

School of Visual Arts Archives

Finally, although not exclusively in New York, the New School Archives highly recommends the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art, which includes designers. Many of the Archives of American Art's collections are digitized to some degree and available through the website.

This list is by no means conclusive. Please let us know if you think there are any archives that should be included here.